Katie Floyd of the Mac Power Users Podcast hosts the show while Allison vacations. Professor Albert asks some “interesting” questions of the NosillaCastaways. Katie walks through her top 10 iPhone Apps: 1Password, Evernote, Instagram, Delivery Status Touch, Card Munch, CardStar, TextExpander Touch, Instapaper, Google Voice, and Find My iPhone. Check out the free public beta of Clarify from bluemangolearning.com/clarify. Kirschen Seah from FreeRangeCoder.com reviews the LapLog from TheLapLog.com. Rod Simmons of the simplemobilereview.com reviews the Plantronics Voyager Pro. Allison sneaks in a review of AppDelete Lite from the Mac App Store. Katie walks through how her preparation ahead of time helped her survive a complete meltdown of her Mac. In Chit Chat Across the Pond Bart and Katie compare the Apple strategy to Star Trek.
Hi, this is Katie Floyd, sitting in for Allison Sheridan of the Nosillacast Mac Podcast, a technology geek podcast with an *ever* so slight Macintosh bias. Today is Sunday, August 21, 2011 and this is show number 326.
So as you may have heard, our fearless leader was on vacation this week and asked me to step in and host the show in her absence. I was delighted to have the opportunity to hang out with the Nosillacastaways again. After all, this was a pretty light week for me seeing as I had recently boxed up all my worldly possessions and moved to a new home. All I had to do this week was unpack everything I owned, get the new house organized, get all the boxes out of my new house, setup all the technology in my life setup (that was the fun part!), coordinate a bunch of workmen and installers around my house for the last minute-fixes the builder didn’t get to, work a 40+ hour week, record my own podcast with David Sparks, and move the Mac Power Users feed over to the 5by5 network. As research assistant Niraj would say…easy peezy!
A quick plug for me, if you haven’t heard, my regular show, Mac Power Users (hosted over at www.macpowerusers.com) moved this week to become associated with the mighty 5by5 network. If you’re currently subscribed to the show, nothing should change (although we might have duplicated the feed for a bit during the move- sorry about that!). If you’ve never heard of us, now’s an even better time than ever to check us out as us out.
Ok…enough about me, now on to the show.
Knowing that I had such a crazy week in store for me, and that all the plate spinning required to put on a live show is really, really, hard, the Nosillacastaways came together and submitted a bunch of great content for this week’s show. But of course, it wouldn’t be a Nosillacast without a word from our good friend Professor Albert. Now, since Professor Albert knew how busy I was this week, he didn’t have a question for me, but he has a couple of questions for all of you:
Professor Albert asks some Questions
Hello dere Katie Floyd dis is Professor Albert – you are vun of my favorite podcasters dere vith DA MAC POWER USERS. You and DAT MAC SPARKY dere oh my god you ah so so smart. I love your podcast. It makes me FEEL ALL POWERFUL AND GEEKY TOO. DATS VHY I LOVE IT.
Tank you for being here for Alison as she is cruising in DA MEDITERRANEAN on her PODCAST YACHT.
VELL, I have some DUMB QUESTIONS FOR DA NOSILLACASTAWAYS. I don’t vant to drive you crazy trying to answer dese so dese are for DA VUNDERFUL NOSILLACASTAWAYS! Here ve go:
IF YOU PUT SOFTWARE ON A HARDDRIVE, WHY ISN’T IT CALLED A SOFTDRIVE?
DOES A KILOBYTE BITE?
AND IF IT DOES…. CAN YOU DIE FROM IT?
VHY DOES MY BODY LOOK VIMPY AND OUT OF SHAPE ON MY HIGH DEFINITION ISIGHT CAMERA?
VEN I PUT MY COMPUTER TO SLEEP, WHY DOESN’T IT SNORE?
AND VHEN I SLEEP IT, SHOULD I PUT PAJAMAS ON IT?
OR SHOULD IT SLEEP IN THE BUFF?
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MEGABYTE AND A BIG MAC?
YESTERDAY I NUKED AND PAVED MY COMPUTER SO NOW HOW DO I GET THE TAR AND MY MELTED MAC OUT OF THE MICROWAVE OVEN?
YOU ARE VERY WONDERFUL, KATIE FLOYD!
Thanks Professor. So dear listeners, if you can help professor Albert with any of these issues, please feel free to write in. Remember, Allison’s back next week, so why don’t you send your responses to her at email@example.com.
Ok, I guess it’s time for me to do a little work here. Chief Nosillacastaway Steve Sheridan recently acquired his very first iPhone. You may have seen his fun filled vacation tweets this past week so he’s obviously getting great use out of it. Steve sent out a call for help a couple of weeks ago asking what Apps should he install on his brand new iPhone. I figured Steve likely wasn’t the only person who could benefit from some App advice, because the rumor mills are buzzing with the pending launch of the iPhone 5, and I’m guessing we’ll see some new iPhone owners in the coming months.
So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with Steve, and all the other listeners my ten must have iPhone Apps.
- 1Password – If you’re not using a password manager, you’re likely not being as secure with your passwords as you should. 1Password is an application that generates, stores and auto-fills passwords for your various web sites, but gives you access to all these passwords by using a single Master password, your Password. With an App like 1Password, there’s no reason to use insecure passwords or repeat the same password across multiple sites. They have Mac and PC version as well as mobile versions for your iPhone and iPad and use Dropbox to keep all your information in sync. The 1Password application on my iPhone and iPad makes sure I have all my passwords with me wherever I am and allows me a secure place to store sensitive information.
- Evernote – Evernote is the place where I store “everything else” in my life. Random pieces of information like the dimensions of my furniture, a list of movies I’d like to watch, places I need to update my address, the funky names of the makeup I buy because I can never remember when I’m at the counter, recipes (because I don’t actually have enough to have a dedicated recipe program) notes from meetings, and so fourth and so on. They have clients for just about every platform as well as a web interface so you’re never without your notes. Evernote has been branded as an “external brain” and I think that’s a good analogy. If there’s something random that I need to remember, but something that really doesn’t fit anywhere else, it goes into Evernote.
- Instagram – Instagram is a fairly new addition to my iPhone and fills a void. Here’s the problem, now that I’ve got this fancy camera on my phone, I’m taking a lot of photos I want to share. Some I want to share with my twitter friends, some I just want to share on Facebook, some on both. But I don’t want to go into the individual apps and double post them. Problem solved with Instagram that will post to these services and a whole lot more. It also has a ton of neat visual effects you can apply to your photo.
- Delivery Status Touch – I obviously have a problem because I have a lot of deliveries. I do most of my shopping online so the FedEx and UPS guy come to my door more often than they probably should. It’s tough to keep track of everything and because I usually come in and out the back door of my house I’ve had an occasion where a package has sat at my front door for days because I’ve forgotten to check. Delivery Status Touch to the rescue. Once you get the notification of a delivery, simply copy the tracking number and open the App. Delivery Status Touch will recognize the contents of the clipboard as a tracking number and ask to add it. If you allow the App, you’ll receive push notifications letting you know of your package’s progress. You can also open the App and easily at a glance see the status of your package and how many days till delivery.
- CardMunch – I have a constant problem where people give me their business cards and the information never gets where it should. I was looking around for an App that I could use to take a picture of the business card and import the information to my address book. I found several but they all used traditional OCR technology which is about 90% accurate. 90% is fine, but if you think about it, there are 10 digits in a standard US phone number, and 90% accuracy is a problem. Cardmuch takes a different approach, while they use some OCR to take an initial pass at the card, they also have live humans at the other end that reviews your card for accuracy. Of all the cards I’ve submitted, the information returned has been accurate. Once the information is processed in the CardMunch app, you have it in your separate CardMunch address book, and can decide whether or not to add it to your iPhone address book. This is great because maybe you scan a card at a conference because you want the information, but maybe you don’t want it in your real address book. Now I just snap a picture of the business card and hand it back to the person with nothing else to fuss with.
- CardStar – keeping with less items to fuss with in real life, I love taking advantage of bargains, but I hate carrying around a big fat wallet. In a perfect world, I’d cary my ID a debit card and be done with it. I can’t quite get that minimalist, but with CardStar I can come close. Because I always have my iPhone, CardStar allows me to import all the information from those store rewards cards and store them on my phone. So when I’m at CVS or Ace hardware and the cashier asks for my reward card, all I have to do is launch the App and select the appropriate store and a bar code appears on screen ready for the cashier to scan. On a couple of occasions I have had CVS give me trouble using this refusing to scan my iPhone because they were afraid of catching a virus, but in that case I just read them the number to punch in manually, still better than carrying the card.
- TextExpander Touch – Allison’s already told you how great TextExpander is on the Mac, and now you can have some of that functionality on your iPhone with their app. TextExpander has built a development kit that allows other developers to build TextExpander Touch support into their apps. Over 100 applications now support TextExpander. So if you’re using a compatible app, just type your TextExpander snippet, and the characters expand just as if you were using your Mac. Unfortunately, not all Apps support TextExpander yet, so there’s a stand alone App where you can create, sync and compose using your snippets and then copy or export that information into other applications. A recent addition, TextExpander now syncs snippets over dropbox to your iPhone so you can have the same snippets on your Mac and iOS device.
- Instapaper – I’ll frequently be browsing twitter and find a friend has posted a link to something that I want to read, but perhaps don’t have the time to do so right then and there. That’s where Instapaper comes in. Either using an integrated service on an App, their Safari bookmarkelet, or their email link, you can quickly save web sites to your Instapaper account that you want to read later. Using the iPhone app, you can quickly download the text of those saved articles in an easy to read format for the iPhone so that when you have a few minutes later in the day you can review the article. I find that throughout the day I’ll bookmark a half dozen or so articles, and then maybe at lunch of when I have a few minutes waiting at the courthouse or standing in line I’ll pull up Instapaper and review my reading list.
- Google Voice- Google Voice is a service that we could probably devote an entire segment to in and of itself. In a nutshell, Google Voice allows you to give people one phone number and when dialed, will ring another or multiple numbers. You can also setup specific rules with Google Voice to have it only ring certain times of the day, to screen calls, to block certain calls, or to only allow certain calls. For example, my Google Voice number rings my cell phone, home phone and my direct extension at my desk at work. Google Voice also offers some interesting voicemail transcription services and other features like SMS messaging. Because I have very limited text messaging plan, I’ll give people my GoogleVoice number instead to text. For example, this past year at Macworld someone setup a texting group where members of the Mac Roundtable could send text messages to the entire group. It was a lot of fun but I must have gotten a couple hundred text messages in the span of a week. That would have totally blown my limited texting plan. I can see the day in the future when GoogleVoice may be the only phone number I give people.
- Find My iPhone – If you have a new iPhone, I strongly suggest that you activate this free service from Apple. If your iPhone is ever lost or stolen, with Find my iPhone, you MIGHT have a shot at recovering it, or at least locking it down to avoid data loss. Last month we were out of town having dinner to celebrate my brother’s college graduation (Yea Matt!) He has a bad habit of putting his iPhone on the dinner table and this time he walked off and left it. We were down the road before he realized. Less than a minute after the discovery I had already pulled up his iPhone using Find my iPhone on my iPhone, locked the device (because he didn’t have a passcode) and verified the iPhone was still in the restaurant. Fortunately, the iPhone was recovered. My point is, this service takes a few minutes to setup but can avoid a catastrophe down the road.
Let’s take a quick break with a word from Allison about our first sponsor, ScreenSteps and Clarify:
ScreenSteps and Clarify
You use technology, which means that things go wrong sometimes. You have to write to the developer from time to time and explain the problem you’re having. You’ve probably spent a lot of time elaborately explaining the problem only to have the developer write back and ask you clarifying questions. What if in a few quick and easy steps you could take a few screenshots of where the software fails, annotate those images with arrows and boxes to make SURE they don’t miss your point, and put in just a FEW words and have them know exactly what you meant. That’s the idea behind Blue Mango Learning’s new application Clarify, now in public beta. After you throw the steps together, simply click Share, and it uploads to a link at clarify-it.com. no login required, no account set up, just a quick and easy link you can forward to the vendor. If you want, you can copy the document to the clipboard and paste into an email. It’s so frictionless to do this you’ll be amazed at how many times you’ll use it. I bet you have tried to explain something to over the phone 28 times but he just doesn’t remember it, right? make a Clarify document he can print out and keep by the computer from now on and you’ll both be happier!
Remember that of course you can still get ScreenSteps for the heavy lifting when you need to write a training manual or complex lessons.
I’m really excited about the niche Clarify fills for “regular” people. I’d love it if you checked out the beta and gave Blue Mango Learning feedback on how Clarify works for you. check it out at bluemangolearning.com/clarify. It’s a chance to test drive a new product for free, and to help them develop an even better product.
Kirshen with LapLog for iPad
Okay, this live show bit is hard work so I’m going to take a break and let’s let some of the Nosillacastaways chime in with their reviews. First up is Kirschen with a review of the LapLog for iPad.
Hi! Kirschen from FreeRangeCoder.com, here with a review. This time I’m looking at an iPad accessory called LapLog. But first, what’s the problem to be solved? Well, it’s that you have to use one hand to hold the iPad while sitting on your easy chair and you’re left with the other to interact. Or you wind up contorting your legs to prop your iPad up.
Sure you could use the smart cover or iPad cases which fold up, as a prop to hold up the iPad but you’re usually stuck with the iPad at one, maybe two angled positions.
And then my partner, Sarah found the LapLog at TheLapLog.com – it’s a cylindrical pillow filled with buckwheat hulls (very eco-friendly!). The LapLog has a wooden insert that has a U-shaped bracket sticking out of the side. You fluff the pillow, put it on your lap, and then slide the iPad into the bracket – it’s that easy! You can put the iPad in either the portrait or landscape orientation. What’s more, in the portrait mode, there’s a convenient cut out for the Home button – how very thoughtful!
And the result… I have two hands free! I can get to type with both hands on the onscreen keyboard.
The neat thing about the LapLog pillow is that you can shape it to change the angle of the iPad to suit your viewing position. And you don’t even need to sit it on your lap, just put it on the handy seatback tray table when you’re traveling by air, and voila, it is a stand!
The LapLog is 5″ in diameter and 10″ long, and weighs about 18 ounces – small and light enough to stash in your carry-on bag. LapLog says that you can use it as a handy neck pillow too! It’s one of those travel items you want to make sure that you pack for easy access in your rollaboard – such a useful thing!
If it gets dirty, no problem! You can remove the wooden insert, pour out the buckwheat hulls, and wash the very durable cylindrical fabric cover, gentle cycle, please!
Sarah purchased one for her mum as a birthday present so she could use it with her iPad. I wound up borrowing it and liked it so much I got my own!
I’m actually typing the notes for this review using the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard and the iPad propped up in the LapLog, on my lap, in my easy chair, naturally… The other neat thing is that you won’t get a toasty lap as with a conventional laptop – that’s a win for the Post-PC devices!
Go on and check it out at TheLapLog.com! It’s priced at $39.95 for the standard design. There are special limited editions with various patterned designs too – those will run you $49.95. Don’t have an iPad, but one of the other tablets? No worries, the LapLog will also work with most tablets and eBook readers. I might just try it with my iPhone too!
The verdict? I love my LapLog – it’s just the thing to prop my iPad while I’m sitting in the comfy chair. It’s definitely the cat’s meow – although mine’s purring in her sleep right now…
Once again, this is Kirschen from FreeRangeCoder.com, and I’ll see you in the bit stream!
Thanks Kirschen, what a lovely an elegant solution to such a common problem.
Rod Simmons on the Plantronics Voyager Pro Plus
Next, Rod Simmons From SimpleMobileReview.com is back with a review of the Plantronics Voyager Pro Plus.
Having a great headset is critical if you spend hours each day on the phone but a perfect headset delivers superior quality on both sides of the conversation. Since using the Plantronics Voyager Pro+ I have not received a complaint about call quality. I exclusively used the Plantronics Voyager Pro until I broke the headset during a business trip and now I have the new and improved model.
The Voyager Pro + adds critical features that were lacking in the original version. First and most important the Plantronics Voyager Pro+ adds support for A2DP Bluetooth streaming. Basically A2DP allows streaming of audio such as music, audiobooks, or podcasts to the headset. A2DP is not the only addition to the Voyager Pro Plus the wind noise reduction is significantly better but still not on par with the Jawbone devices.
Additionally the Voyager has multipoint technology that allows you to pair the headset with two bluetooth devices such as a computer (for Skype Calls) and a mobile phone or a work and personal mobile phone.
By far the Voyager Pro+ is the most comfortable bluetooth headset. It has a dedicated power switch, volume rocker, call answer/termination button and swiveling boom microphone. While the Voyager is more bulky then a Jawbone the comfort and quality is apparent.
Over the past week I have used the Voyager Pro+ and only 1 time have I had to charge during a business day and that was not until 4 PM that day I was streaming podcasts and on the phone for about 7 straight hours. The battery life on the Voyager Pro+ is 6 hrs and if needed you can charge the headset while using it.
Press and hold the answer/hangup button on the headset activates the voice command features on BlackBerry, iPhone, and Windows Phone in my testing. The volume on the headset is significantly better then competitive headsets.
The Voyager Pro+ is not the most iconic device but the functionality and performance make it a device worth owning.
You can find this review and others from Rob over at www.simplemobilereview.com
Katie explains how she uses PDF Pen and PDF Pen Pro both in her work as a lawyer, and loved using it during the work to buy her house, signing PDFs using PDF Pen rather than hunting down a fax machine and making the documents unreadable with so much back and forth faxing. check it out at smilesoftware.com.
Allison on AppDelete Lite
So we all know that Allison couldn’t keep her nose out of the show for the entire time, right? Well she was able to pull herself away from vacation long enough to submit this review:
Hi everyone – Allison here from vacation in Mammoth Lakes, California. I hope you’re all having a grand time with Katie hijacking my show – I’m sure she’s doing a fabulous job. I couldn’t keep my nose out of the show for the whole week though, so I’m going to give you a quick review of a new application to the Mac App Store.
You’ve heard me over the years singing the virtues of Reggie Ashworth’s AppDelete software, right? This fantastic little app will let you drag applications onto it and delete all the cruft lying about your operating system to keep things running smoothly and efficiently. AppDelete will run you $7.99 from reggieashworth.com. But that’s old news, right?
Let’s give you a new problem to solve. How about you’re running a fleet of Macs at your house like I am, and $8/system is a bit too rich for your blood? Or what if you’re a control freakÉI mean you really like to know what’s going on in your system, so letting the application auto delete all the cruft that goes with an application just isn’t your style? Enter AppDelete Lite new in the Mac App Store.
AppDelete Lite, in the words of Tim Verpoorten, does one thing and does it well. It shows you all the pieces of junk to be deleted, and shows you the path name to each piece of extra junk, like plists and log files, allowing you to easily click the path to delete them yourself. It’s really interesting learning where the applications hide all these critical and yet annoying bits of the program.
I can think of another use for AppDelete Lite – if you have an application that’s giving you the spinning beach ball of death or misbehaving in some other way, this would be the single fastest way to FIND the corrupted plist file that’s wrecking your application.
And now for the best part, since AppDelete Lite is in the Mac App Store, that means it’s licensed for all the Macs you own and operate, for your personal use, and it’s only $3.99! If you want complete control over what you delete, and you want a quick and easy way to find errant plists, then head on over to the link in the shownotes to AppDelete Lite in the Mac App Store.
Ok Katie – show’s all yours – have fun with the NosillaCastaways!
Katie on how to survive catastrophic Mac failure
All right, so I guess it’s back to me, hua. Well, thanks to everyone for summating your reviews to help me out with this Marathon show, but I think we have room for one more segment. I want to share with you all a recent tale of woe, but don’t worry, it has a happy ending. I’m sharing with you my recent experience when my less than one year old MacBook Air suffered a sudden and unprovoked hardware failure and died on me without warning right before I was scheduled to give a major presentation. Because of some pre-planning, I survived the ordeal, and I hope by sharing my experiences that you can too.
It started just like any other evening. I just returned from a day at work and was tending to my normal evening computing routines of updating podcasts,checking RSS feeds and reviewing emails. Suddenly the spinning pinwheel of death appeared and my computer was completely unresponsive. With little choice,I pressed the power button and waited for my machine to reboot. When it did,I was greeted with a kernel panic at startup. If you’ve never seen a kernel panic before,count yourself lucky. It’s a daunting screen that tells you in several different languages something really bad has happened and your computer can’t recover. Not good.
Remembering my troubleshooting techniques,I unplugged all external devices and rebooted again. This time,a folder with a question mark. I grabbed the USB key that shipped with the Air and was able to reboot from it,but Disk Utility did not see a hard drive. This is looking more and more like a hardware problem so I phoned AppleCare.
When I get on the line with the first-level tech support I always politely identify myself as an experienced Mac user and troubleshooter and identify the steps I’ve already taken to resolve the problem in the hopes of avoiding some of the normal troubleshooting routine. Unfortunately,that didn’t seem to work this time. The first-tier tech insisted all I needed to do was archive and install the operating system. However,she didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t do that when Disk Utility won’t see the hard drive. After about 10 minutes of convincing,she put me on hold to consult with her supervisor and we realized that my computer was going in for repair.
Thankfully,because I practice what I preach in the area of backup,data loss is a non-issue. It wasn’t even something I had to think about which took a lot off my mind in an already stressful time. I had a clone backup of the drive from the night before the crash and had done less than an hours worth of work on the machine since that backup. I use CrashPlan to create off site backups of my data that updates every fifteen minutes and have a second CrashPlan backup of my entire home directory to a Drobo on my local network for good measure. I also have a Time Capsule that stores hourly Time Machine backups of my machine.
The newest addition to my “backup” strategy and one that was never intended for backup,but turned out to be the most useful in this time,was that I recently transitioned my documents folder to my Dropbox. This meant all my documents were instantly up to date and accessible on my iPad,iPhone,or through the Dropbox web interface. I also use “cloud” solutions for much of my data including IMAP mail,Calendar and Contacts syncing via MobileMe and Google Reader for RSS feeds.
One of my first concerns was the fact that I was scheduled to give two Keynote presentations at a nearby Mac Users Group the following evening. Thankfully,the work on these presentations was completed,so it was just a matter of retrieving the files and giving the presentations. This is where my recently implemented strategy of storing my documents in the Dropbox cloud saved the day.
Because I use Keynote for my presentations,I had completed copies of the presentation sitting in my Dropbox folder. Using the Dropbox App on the iPad I was able to retrieve the presentations and use the “open in” feature to open them in the Keynote iPad App. One presentation used fairly simple transitions and imported flawlessly. Another presentation was more involved and used complicated builds and fancy effects and was simplified in the conversion process. However,I ran through the slides and they were perfectly acceptable for the presentation. Thankfully,I previously purchased the Apple VGA Adapter so I could use my iPad with the group’s projector.
I like to stand and talk while giving a presentation so the idea of sitting at a desk swiping the iPad wasn’t appealing. However,I remembered the Keynote Remote App for iPhone was recently updated and decided to give it a second look. Now,the app allows you to pair Keynote on the iPad with an iPhone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to not only trigger slide transitions,but also to see the current and next slide as well as any presenter notes. While the remote (the iPhone) was a bit clunkier than I was use to,it allowed me to control the presentation while walking around the front of the room. I connected the devices via Wi-Fi and noticed some occasional lag,so would triggers weren’t instantaneous. Next time,I’ll try bluetooth to see if the results are better. However the presentation went off without a hitch.
One problem was updating podcasts in the week my machine was gone. Normally I use iTunes and Apple’s iPod app on the iPhone for most of my podcasts. I know many people love Instacast,but it didn’t fit well in my workflow. I keep an iPhone and an iPod Shuffle that I use at the gym in sync with podcasts and while Instacast is great on the iPhone,it doesn’t work for keeping in sync with my Shuffle. My car’s audio system also defaults to playing whatever is on the iPod app so it’s a manual procedure to stop and start Instacast. However,without a computer,updating podcasts through the iTunes store on the iPhone became a pain. Instacast to the rescue! Since I first tested the app the developer has made several improvements. Unfortunately,my car audio system and Shuffle limitations still will probably keep me from using it as my full-time podcast player,but I loved having access to all my podcasts and being able to listen to them whenever I wanted without a big production. If I could figure out a work-around to keep the Shuffle or even an iPod Nano (I don’t want to use my iPhone at the Gym) in sync I’d gladly use Instacast as my primary player.
For everyday activities,the iPad fills in nicely in a pinch for the rest of my computing needs. Email,web surfing,twitter are easy enough on an iPad. Using tools like Dropbox and GoodReader gave me access to my files when necessary. I wish more applications had built-in Dropbox support,especially the Apple iWork apps. However,I still have access to my iDisk so I saved quite a few documents there and used GoodReader as an intermediary to transfer when necessary. DropDav could have solved this problem,but I didn’t use the service to justify the $5 monthly price. Having 1Password on the iPad and iPhone allowed me access to my web sites and passwords securely so I could pay bills and get business done while my Mac was gone. The bluetooth keyboard was also helpful when I needed to do more long form writing.
I did “cheat” and borrow my mom’s MacBook Pro for a couple of hours one evening to record an episode of Mac Power Users with David. I was prepared for a work-around to use Skype on the iPad and a USB headset with the iPad Camera Connection Kit. David would have to record the conversation on his side and do the editing or save the recording in our Dropbox for me to edit when my Air was returned. I couldn’t figure out a way to record my own Skype audio and save it on the iPad. The configuration would have worked in a pinch,but wouldn’t have had the best audio quality.
While I hope that Apple’s iCloud service will make this process more seamless in the future,the real saving grace in my situation was having my documents stored in Dropbox so they were accessible to the iPad. When my Mac returned,the new files I added to Dropbox (including this post) were right back on my Mac. While I had plenty of backups of my documents,without Dropbox,I would have had no way to access them using the iPad alone. I could have tried to borrow a friend’s computer for the presentation and pulled the documents out of Dropbox or off my backup drive, but in this case,I didn’t have to inconvenience anyone else.
This episode also brought up another concern, what about the security of my data while my computer was in for repair? I knew it was standard procedure,but I cringed when the AppleCare service rep asked me for my administrator account password. The keys to the kingdom. My entire life was on that machine and giving up my admin password could mean giving a nefarious person the command codes to my entire life. I tried to talk my way around giving up my password to no avail. Normally when I send a machine in for service I take precautions and even wipe the drive before doing so.
As companies go,I probably trust Apple more than most with this information. I’ve been told by people inside the company their confidentiality and data disposal policy is very strong. Still,the thought still made me uneasy. While the hard drive alone would likely be of minimal value –the combination of the hard drive and the admin password could be disastrous.
Fortunately,some of the precautions I put into place prior to the hardware failure should have served to protect my most confidential data in the unlikely event of a data breach. This incident has also started me thinking about what steps could be taken in advance to protect data when your Mac is at its most vulnerable,when being sent in for repair. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- Use a secure password manager and set the password to something other than your login password. I’ve preached at length about the need to have unique,secure passwords. But that’s only good if the key to your password manager is secure as well. Obviously,it should not be the same password as your login password. If someone has an admin password for your Mac,that will be the first thing they try.
- Use the features of your password manager. It surprises me how many people use a solution like 1Password or another password manager to store their passwords,but don’t truly take advantage of all the features such as strong password generation or finding and eliminating similar or weak passwords. Your passwords should all be unique and random. Don’t repeat passwords across sites,ever.
- Consider using disk encryption, especially now that it has come of age with Lion. Just keep in mind,in the case of FileVault,once you give up that admin password,you’ve just unencrypted FileVault.
- Use secure disk images. You can create secure disk images for your most sensitive files. Files stored in secure disk images are inaccessible without the disk image password,regardless of whether someone has access to your account. The only problem is that these images typically are stored as a single file,sometimes as a bundle. So if the image becomes corrupt you can lose all your data inside. Backups are important.
- Use an alternative admin account. If Apple wants an administrator password,this will allow you to give them access to a password that is not your primary account. This will offer you some additional protection. I also like the idea of having a fresh clean user account for troubleshooting purposes. Setup a password for this account that is unrelated to any of your other passwords so your other passwords aren’t compromised if you have to give it out.
- Change your default keychain password. Passwords for many items are stored in your login Keychain. Mail accounts,wireless routers,etc. By default,your login Keychain password is the same as your login password. Changing this password makes using your Mac a bit of a pain because to really do anything with your Mac you’re going to have to punch in yet another password to unlock your keychain too. As with everything,security is a balance between security and user-friendly usability.
- Consider the security offered by the cloud. This may sound counter-intuitive but if you have sensitive items stored in a cloud-based solution like Dropbox,you can usually use the web interface for the cloud solution remove files from the computer next time it tries to connect. The options vary by service,but it’s something worth checking out.
- If you have a special situation,explain it and ask. While not common procedure,especially if you are taking your Mac for repair at a local facility,you may ask the Tech or management for the return of your original hard drive or proof it was destroyed. This is more difficult when you ship your machine away,but still may be possible. Be prepared that you may have to pay for the defective part. For example,I had a defective Time Capsule replaced under AppleCare a few years ago but the defective unit still worked well enough to access data. While I had to take the functioning Time Capsule into Apple for diagnosis,the Manager (with a credit card hold) allowed me to take my old unit home for 24 hours so I could perform a secure erase on the hard drive.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of security precautions you can use with your Mac,nor is it intended to be. For a review of that topic,I suggest you check out Mac Power Users Episode 10:Mac Security.
Overall,my week without a computer went okay. I did have my work PC at the office for all my work related activities. I have also not seen any sign that any of my date or privacy was compromised and I feel very confident with the security measures I had in place pre-failure in the event my hard drive is floating around out there that my most sensitive data is safe. With the possible exception of recording the podcast,there was nothing mission critical I had to do that couldn’t be accomplished on the iPad. However,I am planning on buying a Mac Mini once all these new housing expenses settle down to use as a home server and backup computer. I’ve been considering purchasing a Mini for a while,although this may have highlighted that need. This is another one of those cases where a little preparation on the front end can save you a lot of hassle on the bank end, because you never know when a hard drive failure is going to strike.
Chit Chat Across the Pond
- Mozilla release FireFox 6 & FireFox 3.6.20 – these are the ONLY safe versions of FireFox, if you’re on 3.6.* you need to update to 3.6.20, and if you’re on 4.* or 5.*, you have to go up to 6 to be safe
- Do you use DropBox? When it the last time you checked your version? The App does NOT auto-update reliably, so you need to manually check to be sure you are now on 1.1.40 (good article describing the problem here: http://blog.intego.com/2011/08/18/is-your-dropbox-software-up-to-date/)
- Adobe did a bumper update on the 10th of July, if you haven’t updated yourself yet, definitely do so ASAP – http://blogs.adobe.com/psirt/2011/08/adobe-product-security-updates-available-2.html
Main Topic – An alternative view on Lion’s implications
That’s going to wind this up for this week, many thanks to our sponsors for helping to pay the bills: ScreenSteps, and Smile. Don’t forget to send in your Dumb Questions, comments and suggestions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on twitter at twitter.com/podfeet. If you want to join in the fun of the live show, head on over to podfeet.com/live on Sunday nights at 5pm Pacific Time. Thanks for listening, and stay subscribed.